Brussels, 21 Oct 2004
Health ministers from seven European countries, together with the European Commission, have announced that they will increase research cooperation in the search for an HIV/AIDS vaccine.
At a meeting in Paris on 19 October, France, Germany, Italy, the UK, Spain, Sweden and the Netherlands said they would structure their research and coordinate their efforts to carry out clinical trials in a bid to accelerate the discovery of a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
French Health Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy hosted the meeting, which was intended to 'forge a single European view' on the issue of HIV/AIDS vaccine development in advance of a Group of Eight (G8) meeting taking place in the US on 21 October. During the G8, France is expected to lead a push for an increased European influence on international vaccine research.
'At present,' said Mr Douste-Blazy, 'more than a third of candidate vaccines in the clinical trial phase around the globe are the product of European research. However, 90 per cent of phase I trials and 100 per cent of phase II trials take place in the US.'
'Europe hopes to reverse this trend,' added the minister.
European research suffers from being fragmented, un-coordinated and under-financed compared to the US, said Mr Douste-Blazy. 'We need to put in place a European scientific agenda on vaccines under the authority of a scientific committee, determine community financing and mobilise industry, practically absent on the continent. We must act now. Together. Tomorrow it will be too late,' said the health minister.
According to Mr Douste-Blazy, European research suffers from a lack of coherence both at scientific and structural level. The European Commission supports research and development for candidate vaccines, but the need to go through a call for proposals mechanism rather than a pluri-annual support programme renders initiatives more fragile, he said in a statement.
In a joint statement, the seven ministers declared themselves ready to combine efforts to obtain results and avoid duplicating trial testing.
This meeting must be considered a starting point stated the Swedish Health Minister, Morgan Johansson. It is a question of 'uniting our efforts' to collaborate with the US, without having a 'subordinate status', added the Italian State Secretary for Health, Antonio Guidi.
Pronouncing the initiative 'crucial', Octavio Quintana Trias, representing the European Commission, declared that the European Union is 'ready to make an effort' to increase funding, but that Member States also must pledge additional contributions.
The trials aimed at verifying the efficiency of a candidate-vaccine against HIV/AIDS can cost from 40 to 120 million euro each when it comes to large-scale testing (phase III), according to the director of the French national research agency for AIDS (ANRS), Professor Michel Kazatchkine.
Such clinical trials, constituting the ultimate stage of the process, could be scheduled for between 2007 and 2009, he explained. But it would still be necessary to wait until 2011 to 2013 to have an answer on a possible vaccine, he emphasised.
Although they could not prevent the infection, the first available vaccines would allow patients to defend themselves better against the virus and thus delay the development of the disease, said Professor Kazatchkine.